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Mr. Steen : We thank the hon. Gentleman for giving us a guided tour of Bulgaria, which we find fascinating, but may I bring him back to the subject of the debate? I have never been to Bulgaria, although, having heard what he says, perhaps I will go. Is he not concerned about the Commission's report that organised crime in Bulgaria is increasing? My hon. Friends and I are worried about what will happen when Bulgaria enters the EU, unless certain Chinese walls are put up by the Commission to prevent organised criminals moving west.
The UK is the third largest investor in Bulgaria. Some of our major firms are there. Through the all-party group, I have contact with British businesses based there and I have been there to talk to British business men in years gone by. Last year 259,000 British tourists visited Bulgaria, not just to ski or for the sunmany are buying property in Bulgaria. Many of our constituents now have property there.
No one would deny that Bulgaria has problems, particularly organised crime, which is dominated by several large criminal groups whose activities are accompanied by turf wars and inter-gang violence. Just last week there was a shooting incident in Sofia. Other speakers have mentioned the problems of Bulgaria's borders. There is no doubt that the country is a transit area for the smuggling of people and drugs from Afghanistan into Europe.
Hon. Members should not think that no effort has been made to stop drug trafficking from Afghanistan through Bulgaria. I have spoken to our agencies, which have worked with the Bulgarian authorities for years to put a stop to that. There are problems with the movement of drugs in this country as well, which we find difficult to control. It is said that only 5 per cent. of what comes into the UK is caught, but no one knows whether that is the true figure.
Several hon. Members mentioned organised crime and the steps that Bulgaria is taking to tackle it. The Commission's report earlier this year considered the problems in some detail. The Bulgarians do not deny that problems existfar from it. In The Economist this week there are comments from the Prime Minister about the situation there. Bulgaria had elections in June, but it was not until September that a Government were formed from a coalition of three parties. Consequently, legislation that would go to the heart of the Commission's report has been delayed.
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The new criminal procedure code that was mentioned was adopted by the national Parliament on 14 October. The code avoids any overlaps and ensures that the pre-trial system is efficient and transparent. Nobody denies that there are problems with the judicial systemthere certainly are. In addition to the criminal procedure code, which is expected to be introduced in six months, another positive development has been the reform of the pre-trial phase and the decision of the constitutional court, which was taken on 1 September this year. There is also a new draft law on the Ministry of the Interior, which was adopted on its first reading by the national Assembly on 6 October 2005.
Bulgaria's efforts to sort out its problems should not be dismissed. It is working to do so with the help of the Commission, the UK Government and some of their agencies, and other EU Governments and their agencies. There is a determination to overcome their problems. No one should doubt that Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU. We have accepted that. The debate now is about whether it will be in 2007 or a year later. There are many problems, one of which involves the Roma people in Romania, which I have seen at first hand on more than one occasion. We deal with similar problems on a smaller scale in some of our communities every day of the week.
The biggest event in my political life was not entering the House, but the fall of the Berlin wall, getting rid of ideology in Europe, and the change in our lives. I welcome the further step of Bulgaria and Romania's accession, which will be a change for ever.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I shall not deal with Bulgaria, but I shall deal with Romania, with which I have had personal contacts for a very long time. I give a broad welcome to the fact that both countries are applying for membership of the European Union. I strongly believe in the widening of Europe, but I am not so sure about the deepening of Europe. However, that is a debate for another day. No wonder the Minister for Europe smiles when I say that.
If one country in the whole of Europe needs our help, it is Romania. It has endured a very difficult period. I am afraid that the whole story will never be written of the sadness, sorrow and persecutionespecially religious persecutionthat its people suffered. There is a strong Baptist denomination in Romania, and the Baptists were at the receiving end of much persecution. One of the leaders of the Baptist union showed me a calendar on which the birth of Christ had been removed and in its place put the birth of the dictator who ruled the country. If they had not agreed to that, no calendar would have been allowed to be printed.
A friend of mine is very fluent in the English tongue and he was offered a good position as an interpreter. He refused, because he was handed a script that differed from what the person said. It was written by the dictator and put into the mouths of officials and consuls from other countries, and he had to read it. His punishment was that his wife, a doctor who worked in a hospital some five miles from the capital city, was ordered to walk to and from her work every day. She had to rise early every morning and walk five miles, and then walk five miles back every night after a gruelling time. One of the main Baptist churches that enlarged its premises was refused the right to have any toilet accommodation.
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Those were the persecution tactics of a regime that, thank God, is no longer there. But some of its fellow travellers are still there and they are not keen on seeing democracy and freedom in their fullness. I welcome the fact that Romania is going to make its way towards alleviating long years of sadness, sorrow and bitterness. I should like that to be encouraged, but it must be encouraged along the right road. The facts show that there are great difficulties in Romania. It is estimated that the country lost $2.5 billion over a few years due to the levels of corruption. From January to October 2002, more than $1.5 billion was illegally transferred abroad. Crime is at a high rate, with masterminds of evil behind it. Romania needs all the help that it can get.
I am not enamoured with the Commission. I sat for 25 years in the European Parliament, and the Commission could have done a lot more to deal with fraud in its own offices, but it refused to act. A former leader of the Labour party was put in charge of tackling fraud, but he was unable to settle the matter, so the fraud went onif he could not settle it, it must be dug down into the ditches and well covered over. This House must say to the Commission that if the Commission is going to inspect others, it should inspect itself and put its own house in order, which would give us more confidence.
No hon. Member, and especially not those of us who want the EU to be broadened, wants to keep those two countries out of the European Union. By broadening the EU, we will have far more freedom than by deepening it and by tying it into our constitution, which would form a straitjacket. That is a debate for another day and I fear the eye of Mr. Deputy Speaker, who may even whisper to the Clerkonce the Clerk and Mr. Deputy Speaker get together, it is goodbye [Laughter.] I have heard that laughter for many long years.
In conclusion, we wish those two countries well. They are taking steps that will be opposed even in their own circle, but they are taking them because they see a better way ahead. We also wish the Minister well. He has been honest at the Dispatch Box and has faced up to the issues. I hope that I am still in this House to welcome those two countries into a Europe that is really free.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am certain that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) will be in the House when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU, because, as far as we know, there will be no general election until 2010. I congratulate him on his forthcoming elevation to the Privy Council.
It must be a special Bill to unite the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish nationalists, the Welsh nationalists and everybody else. I have a feeling that there will not be a vote tonight and that the Bill will proceed with all parties consenting to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, but things might happen between now and the end of the debate, so we must wait and see. When previous accession Bills were presented to the House, they were passed with substantial majorities and no one opposed them.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has left the Chamber, but earlier he said that the Conservative party has always supported
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enlargement. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) reminded him that the present chairman of the Conservative partyfor the time beingwas shadow Minister for Europe at the time of the Nice negotiations and was very much in favour of a referendum on the Nice treaty, which would have blocked the countries that joined so successfully on 1 May 2004. I know that memories are short, but it is worth remembering that fact.
This Government have always championed enlargement. Since the Prime Minister took office in 1997, he has mentioned EU enlargement in every speech that he has made in continental Europe. In particular, he set out what type of Europe he wanted to see develop in his speech in Warsaw in 2000, when he made it clear that it would be a prime achievement for this Government if Poland and the other countries then applying were allowed to join, which they did in 2004.
We are welcoming Romania and Bulgaria a little late because they started their negotiations at exactly the same time as other countries that have subsequently joined. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) was right to remind us that the process is difficult and laborious. He was also right to commend those countries for going through the acquis communautaire to such an extent. Of course, all 35 chapters have to be agreed to and fulfilled; the acquis must be completed in full.
Congratulations are due to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. We are in the middle of our presidency, which some have described as low key, but I believe that it has been extraordinarily successful. We are not only presenting the accession Bill on Bulgaria and Romania to Parliament earlier than many of our partnersonly three other countries, together with the European Parliament and Romania and Bulgaria, have ratifiedbut the Government decided on 3 October to switch on the green light for beginning accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia. To paraphrase the hon. Member for North Antrim, I hope that I am in the HouseI know that the Minister will be because he is much younger than mewhen the accession Bills for Turkey and Croatia are presented to Parliament.
All the arguments have been eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), the Minister, the shadow Minister for Europe and others about the importance of Bulgaria and Romania joining a united Europe, which provides a huge trading area. Those countries have been our partners for many years. I do not know as much about Bulgaria as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who had to leave the Chamber to chair the Yorkshire group. He spoke with great knowledge of Bulgaria. When I was Minister for Europe, I visited it for only eight hours. Similarly, I visited Romania for only seven hours. When one is a Minister in those circumstances, one never quite gets a feel for the country. However, as those countries approach their accession, I imagine that there is a great deal of hope about their entry into the EU.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North what the alternative was. It is, of course, staying out, which means being isolated. When so many people are prepared to criticise the EU, why is there a queue of
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countries waiting to join? The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam reminded us that we are always debating a crisisthe European constitution, which the French rejected, problems in European policy, no agreement on the budget and so on. Everyone tries to exploit the problems in the EU but today we are discussing a genuine good news story, which will greatly benefit the people of Europe and ensure that, at last, we can share our experience throughout the continent. As we all know, Romania and Bulgaria will not be the last countries that want to join the EU.
Clause 2 deals with the worker registration scheme. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality is present because he replied to a parliamentary question from me on 11 July, saying that he did not believe it was appropriate at this stage to review the scheme, although a review was promised for two years afters its introduction on 1 May 2004. My hon. Friend offered me some good news: there is no backlog in dealing with the schememost of the applications are processed in a few days and 90 per cent. are processed in four weeks. That is a great credit to the Home Office, with which I and others hon. Members, including the Minister, who have heavy immigration case loads, often find cause for concern. The scheme works quickly and that means that decisions are given quickly.
I was very much against the scheme when the Government introduced it. I felt that there was no need for a registration scheme if we were sending out a message to new member countries that they were equal partners with the United Kingdom and that their citizens should have the same access to our country as ours have to theirs. At the time, there was hysteria from the Conservatives
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